Tag Archives: Angela Kariotis

Angie Kariotis talks Walking the Beat and its August 25 final presentation: BLACKOUT 2021

Angie Kariotis, co-creator of Walking the Beat

by France-Luce Benson

Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the most crucial may be our urgent need to have open and honest conversations about race in America. As the grisly video of George Floyd’s murder surfaced, it became painfully clear that we could not afford to look away. Protesters spilled into the streets of cities across the country with a powerful message: If we are silent about injustice, we are complicit.

Angie Kariotis, Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat Los Angeles, has devoted her work to fostering these difficult conversations. Kariotis, along with Fountain Theatre Board member Theo Perkins, created Walking the Beat as a tool for community building for high school students. The nine-week multi-media workshop combines performance, creative writing, film, and research to initiate positive interactions between youth and police.

The Arts Education program began in New Jersey in partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, and in 2019 the Fountain Theatre launched Walking the Beat Hollywood. This year, the Fountain expanded the program, making it possible for students and police officers outside Hollywood to participate. On August 25, the Fountain will screen Walking the Beat Los Angeles’ culminating multi-media presentation, BLACKOUT 2021.

I had the pleasure of talking to Kariotis about the evolution, impact, and future of this vital program. 

What kind of impact did the events of 2020 have on the students, based on your work with them this past month?

If we are scared as a nation, we will forget all the lessons hard learned. You can see it happening already. No one is talking about all the changes we want to keep. What do we want to keep? Instead of rushing to “normal” (which wasn’t!), 2020 necessitated an activation. We’re activated. One thing the students are is ready.

Was it difficult getting the officers and students to open up?

No, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to open up, by themselves and with each other. People, and I believe most people, want to do just that. But they need permission and they don’t want to be alone doing it.

How has the program evolved since its inception, particularly in the last year?

We got research-heavy this year. We turned this workshop into a popular education. We practiced critique and analysis. We studied. We grew into our work as research-based performance artists. We aimed to challenge public policy formally. We are working to move our practice into the theater that is public policy.

How have your own background and experiences prepared you to do this?

I am studying design thinking and collaborative group processes. This framework is about divergent thinking, collaboration, experimentation, and honoring failure. Creativity — and not just the art-making transactional kind — is a necessary skill. We need people who are able to identify problems before they become problems.

Who should see BLACKOUT 2021? Why?

Anyone who wants to know how to have hard conversations with others. People interested in learning how to get people to the table. How to talk about things no one knows how to talk about. Right now we all want to talk about a lot, but we don’t know how.

What is your vision for the future of Walking the Beat and beyond?

For Walking the Beat, my vision is doing policy brief work, where we move beyond survivance and reconnect with the Earth. I wonder how our workshop can tackle the larger theme of power and how that affects our relationship with the planet.  We talk about public safety. Do we have planetary safety? What does that mean? How is the way we treat each other impacting climate? This is the ethos moving me into this space and beyond.

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It is this passion and progressive vision that have inspired the ensemble of students and officers to create work that is bold, brave, and charged with the urgency of this moment in our country. In addition to serving as Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director of Walking the Beat, Kariotis offers community workshops for parents on How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids, works at Brookdale Community College as Director of Diversity and Inclusion/CCOG, and has published a chapter in Musing the Margins, an anthology examining the influence of culture and identity on the craft of fiction.

BLACKOUT 2021 will premiere on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage this Wednesday, August 25, at 7pm. It will also be available to view on Fountain Stream in the fall.

France-Luce Benson is an award-winning playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

WarnerMedia awards grant to Fountain Theatre’s cops/kids program ‘Walking the Beat’

Students in Walking the Beat Los Angeles

The Fountain Theatre has been awarded a WarnerMedia Arts and Culture grant funded by the AT&T Foundation to support Walking the Beat Los Angelesa pioneering arts education program for inner city high school youth and police officers.

Now in its second year at the Fountain, Walking the Beat utilizes performing arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building, providing transformative experiences for underserved youth and police officers.

Eighteen 9th through 12th graders from five Los Angeles area schools — Hawthorne High School, Hollywood High, Los Angeles High School of the Arts @ RFK, Pasadena High and San Pedro High — have been working since mid-June with two detectives from the Los Angeles School Police Department and one officer from the UCLA Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit to create Blackout 2021an original multi-media performance work that focuses on the shift from a culture of incarceration to a culture of care. Each of the students receives a stipend as well as community service hours.

Written by Walking the Beat curriculum director and program facilitator Angela Kariotis with original writings by the ensemble, Blackout 2021 is directed by Theo Perkins. Perkins is executive and artistic director of New Jersey’s Elizabeth Youth Ensemble, which created the program five years ago. The Los Angeles creative team also includes choreographer Nicholas Rodriguez, sheltered yoga instructor Tine LeMar and drama therapist Adam Stevens. Due to the pandemic, Blackout 2021 was conceived as a virtual/hybrid program and will be screened on the Fountain Theatre’s Covid-safe outdoor stage over the course of two evenings at the end of August.

“Although we all miss being on stage, there was an urgency to keep this work going,” says Perkins. “By taking advantage of the digital space, we were able to invite guest artists from all over the country to join us virtually to help generate writing and ideas. This virtual model of devising theater teaches us a lot about radical imagination, radical creativity, and challenges us to explore new methods of solidarity building.”

Kariotis states, “This summer, we integrated a design thinking framework. This means we work together to identify and solve our own problems. We started with the question, how might we shift from a carceral state to a culture of care? We cast our focus wider, beyond any individual people, and onto the day-to-day systems, policies, processes, and habits that entangle us.”

In addition to Warner Media, Walking the Beat Los Angeles is supported in part by the Fountain Theatre, The Vladimir & Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, David and Mary Jo Volk, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the 13th District, L.A. County Department of Probation, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, The Allison Thomas Racial Justice Fund, The Phillips-Gerla Family, Sharyk Overhoser, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Friars Charitable Foundation, Toby and Daniel Bernstein, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The Fountain Theatre is committed to theater as a change agent and to serving the community.

“In these highly charged times, nothing is more urgent than promoting better understanding between young people of color and the police who serve their communities,” notes artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Walking The Beat does just that and more. It changes lives. The powerful curriculum and methodology have been proven — through pre- and post-workshop interviews, surveys and testimonials — to produce real, on-the-ground change.”

Founded in 1990 by Sachs and Deborah Culver, the Fountain Theatre has won hundreds of awards for all areas of production, performance and design, and provides an essential voice for the citizens of Los Angeles. Dedicated to community, the Fountain produces outstanding theater that challenges thinking and shines an artistic light on the many under-represented voices and cultures within Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti joined with the Los Angeles City Council to commend the Fountain for “achieving a position of leadership in the Los Angeles theatre community… producing meaningful new plays of social and political importance that enrich the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles.” During the pandemic, the Fountain was approved by the City of L.A. to build an outdoor stage in its parking lot. As a result, it was one of the first venues to re-open in June. Currently playing on the outdoor stage is the Fountain’s critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which runs through Sept. 19. The theater is also presenting Forever Flamenco al fresco during the last weekends of August and September.

Established in 2016, the Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble’s mission is centered upon strengthening the voices of young artists. Utilizing theater-arts based curricula, EYTE provides creative learning opportunities for inner city youth that allow them to gain confidence, communication skills and self-awareness. EYTE seeks to create experiences that empower youth, developing theater as a powerful place for community

Screenings of Blackout 2021 take place on WednesdayAug. 25 at 7 p.m. and ThursdayAug. 26 at 7 p.m. on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage. The Wednesday evening event will include special remarks and commendations by L.A. City officials. A reception will follow each of the screenings. Admission to the performances is free and open to the public(reservations necessary). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029 (corner Fountain and Normandie). For more information and to make a reservation, call (323) 663-1525 or visit FountainTheatre.com/walking the beat.

Post-Show Blues

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by Melina Young

Post-show blues. It’s a common phrase among theatre folk.

As we close the final performance of the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program, Walking the Beat Hollywood, as panels are struck and lights come down, as kids head safely home to their families, and cops return to patrolling the streets, the phrase takes on new meaning. In the context of Walking the Beat Hollywood, the phrase alludes not only to the malaise that accompanies the end of an affecting production, but also to the image of an LAPD uniform.

Post-show blues.

Walking the Beat Hollywood is a theatrical residency for high school students across Los Angeles and the police officers who patrol their neighborhoods. Together, students and officers devised a piece of theatre they titled “A Wall is Just Another Door,” about community policing informed by their personal experiences. During the show, performers begged the question in a rap battle, “When you see me in my uniform what do you see?” The question asks us all to challenge the assumptions we make and to acknowledge our biases, disadvantages, and privileges.

I have often been told that if I want to make a change in the world, I’m in the wrong business. I’ve heard that political theatre preaches to an audience that is already in agreement. This assumes that the audience attending theatre is of the same ilk. And yet, after Walking the Beat Hollywood I have never been more convinced that theatre changes lives.

Perhaps that is because the theatrical community that created and witnessed Walking the Beat Hollywood was not typical. (Walking the Beat Hollywood challenged convention as soon as the doors opened.) Development offices at theatres all over the world work hard to gather demographic information about their audiences. As a result, we know that theatrical audiences are largely white, liberal, affluent, and over 50. Working for a theatre festival during college, I was tasked with reviewing and digitizing hard-copies of audience surveys. One respondent answered the race and ethnicity question: “Really white.”

This respondent’s answer still makes me laugh. However, it’s also true and has far-reaching and troubling consequences. The ambition to democratize theatre can paradoxically become pretentious and self-serving. This is when theatre-makers become white-saviors. “Democratizing” can often look more like condescending to a group of people those in power ostensibly want to “uplift.” This is tokenism. The antidote to this kind of practice is recognizing that individuals are individuals and not representatives of a group. They are people of worth and power. Walking the Beat Hollywood succeeded in democratizing theatre precisely by self-consciously circumventing that goal.

It would be untrue to claim that the regular homogeneity of most theatrical audiences was unrepresented at Walking the Beat Hollywood. But largely this audience and this cast were unconventional. In fact, the ensemble worked hard to disrupt and challenge convention. Their tools in dismantling systems of oppression were their own stories. The ensemble gave generously of themselves and as a result moved their audience.

MY BG

Melina Young and Barbara Goodhill welcome guests to “Walking the Beat” at LACC.

Angela Kariotis, a visionary theatre-maker, teaching artist, and WTBH playwright writes, “Telling a story is simple, but not easy. Easy and simple are not the same thing… We never think we have any stories. But then all of a sudden, they come tumbling out because we cracked open the door a little. And here they are all demanding, demanding to be told.” That demand imbued Walking the Beat Hollywood with honest urgency. Sitting inside the Caminito Theatre, the call for truth was palpable and stirring. My father wept as he listened to each student’s identity poem and so did I. I already knew and loved these kids and by the end of the performance I think he did too.

When I handed one of the students her final pay check, she looked at me with a telling pout and said, “I don’t want this one.” When I asked her why, she said “because it means it’s the end. And I don’t want to say goodbye to everyone.” Her reluctance was evidence of love. Sixteen strangers—ten kids and six cops—became friends.

Theatre. Changes. Lives.

I saw these kids change. I saw them grow. Many students started this process shy. Many didn’t. Some are still shy and some still aren’t. But I know that they know their worth. I know that they proclaimed their worth in front of an audience eager to bear witness to it. That is genuinely important.

Sure, this was a production focused on cops and kids coming together to discuss the problems of community policing. But the final performance did not offer a solution. Rather, it highlighted human beings of different experience coming together to listen to one another.

I return to the idea of post-show blues. How did Walking the Beat Hollywood change our proverbial uniforms? If only for an evening, we have been armed with an open mind and with the impulse to listen.

I want to challenge theatre-going audiences to continue the legacy of this performance. Be silent and be moved. Listen. After all, “Listening is an act of love.”

Melina Young is the 2019 summer intern at the Fountain Theatre. We thanks the LA Department of Arts and Culture for the support of its Arts Internship Program. 

VIDEO: Cops and students share stories in Fountain Theatre’s new outreach program ‘Walking the Beat’

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